I had a lovely Sunday – I’ll tell you about it some time – but I was a bit irritated at around 0950 on Radio 4.
I don’t think I could be a vegetarian, although I do go meat-free for four days each week, and have done for about seven years now, and I certainly couldn’t be vegan. But I admire, I greatly admire, those who can. I honestly think that those who eschew meat for a variety of ethical and moral reasons are admirable (whether they are right or wrong-headed in their views).
I guess, at heart, I think I ought to eat even less meat but the taste of a juicy steak, bangers and mash, a sandwich of crispy bacon (perhaps with a cup of tea from a van by the road at Tomatin with Henry), roast lamb, pepperoni pizza etc, let alone fish and chips eaten out of the paper or a bowl of mussels or half a dozen oysters, are all very tempting at various times and various occasions. Some of them I feel I should swerve on either greenhouse gas grounds, animal welfare grounds, my health grounds or environmental health grounds – and I suppose for four days a week I do, but for three days a week I don’t. And quite honestly, I think I probably should do on the other three days a week too, but I don’t. So that’s why I admire those who do.
One of those who does is the new shadow Sec of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Kerry McCarthy MP. Ms McCarthy got some headlines last week for comparing meat-eaters with smokers. There are various versions of what she said (Independent, Telegraph (or was it conjecture?), Express) but I’m as much interested in the reaction as her original words.
The world seems to be up in arms over a vegan being in charge of that small bit of Defra that is to do with agriculture these days. Apparently it won’t go down well with farmers that there are people out there who eat food but avoid the cooked flesh of mammals. It comes to something, doesn’t it, when a government department is so owned by one of its ‘stakeholders’ that the press rise up in shock over a person on the high moral ground thinking that more people should be edged towards it?
Since when has British farming decided what we must eat as well as getting paid for producing it and paid some more in subsidies just for being farmers? Just for the record, there are about 55,000 farming members of the NFU (Eng & Wales – although after Saturday that should be WALES & eng) compared with 150,000 vegans (in the UK) and 1.2 million vegetarians (UK again). Yes, not eating meat is a minority way of life, but nowhere near as small a minority as producing meat. And then there are all those people, like me, who are eating less meat each year. We’ll all need farmers to grow our vegetable matter if we all give up meat – there’s nothing for the farming industry to worry about and absolutely nothing for them to get on their high horse about either.
Ms McCarthy could have chosen her words better, I suspect, but if she was trying to make a point, then good for her.
It was a discussion of this on Radio 4 on Sunday morning that irritated me because the rather sensible Matthew Parris, whom I like and respect, was ploughing the ‘Tut tut! A vegan in charge of Defra!’ furrow, except he seemed to think that Defra is still the Department or Ministry of Agriculture after all these years! Well, I think the reason that it irritated me was that in so many respects, it still is!